The only thing that’s consistent in life is “change.” Change seems to favor creative folks working on Broadway, which is needed and welcomed change when it comes to proper representation. We offer a look at the complete list of Tony nominations. You have to admit that diversity and inclusion are represented better than expected, which says a lot since The Tony Awards are hitting a milestone as they enter their 75th year.
Let’s start with L Morgan Lee “A Strange Loop,” who is the first trans performer to be nominated for a Tony. Lileana Blain-Cruz and Camille A. Brown are the second and third African-American women nominated for Best Direction of a Play. (Liesl Tommy was first in 2016 for “Eclipsed.”). Toby Marlow, “SIX” co-creator recognized for Best Original Score, is the first nonbinary composer-lyricist nominated. Adam Rigg, the scenic designer of “The Skin of Our Teeth,” is the first out agender designer selected. This year also has seven performers nominated as Leading Actor in a Play, the first time the category has seen that many nominees since 1958.
And prolific playwright Lynn Nottage, who stepped into the history books, a pioneer of Pulitzer Prize history as the first and only woman to have won twice — is nominated for writing a play and a musical in the same season. Best Play (“Clyde’s”)and Book of a Musical (“MJ”). Nottage acknowledges what her nomination means in the larger scope. “I feel happy to represent,” she said. “I’ve likened this to running the creative equivalent of an iron woman, right? There has been a lot of work and training that has gone into allowing me to have the stamina to actually make it through not only COVID but putting up three pieces of work [also off-Broadway’s “Intimate Apparel” opera] during the most difficult moment in theater history. I had incredible collaborators who were passionate and supportive and whom I could lean on.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown, which saw the theater closed for 15 months, starting on March 12, 2020, and reopening on June 26, 2021, there was a significant loss for the community, including life and income in many instances, a loss of identity.
Camille A. Brown, nominated for her direction and choreography of Ntozake Shange’s “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,” took the lockdown time to develop her vision. Despite the poor sales for the show and the Tony nominations, the show has been extended for two additional weeks.
African American artistry, across the board, was well-represented in the final nominations. And nominated lyricist Masi Asare (“Paradise Square.”) brought up an important point, saying: “You can’t just bring on one person and expect them to fix all the problems,” adding, “There has to be an understanding that people will come in cohorts.”
According to the Broadway League, there are multiple African American artists nominated in every performance category. Jared Grimes, who holds the sole nomination for “Funny Girl,” adds: “It shouldn’t be a thing. We shouldn’t be like, ‘Oh man, there’s more Black people nominated this year.’ No, it should be that the nominating committee felt like there were performances that they wanted to recognize and it just so happens that three of the individuals are African-American; that’s how the chips should always fall.”
And yet, history tells us that if we don’t keep a focus on the issue of diversity and inclusion, we will lose hard-fought gains. Additionally, 68 nominees are first-timers, and 40 are nominated for their Broadway debut. To that end, perseverance and passion must remain and grow if success and a level playing field continue.
The notion is echoed by Tony award director nominee Blain-Cruz, (“The Skin of Our Teeth”) who is no stranger to hard work, having worked her way up through multiple productions at Lincoln Center Theater before making it to Broadway. And Marlow and Lucy Moss started “SIX” as a university project.
Actors Ron Cephas Jones (“Clyde’s”) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (“Take Me Out”) are industry veterans yet nominated for the first time. Jaquel Spivey (“A Strange Loop”) and Kara Young (“Clyde’s”) are brand-new with well-deserved nominations.
The 2022 nominees also boast more women and people of color in design categories, such as first-time nominees Palmer Hefferan for Sound Design of a Play (“The Skin of Our Teeth”), Yi Zhao for Lighting Design of a Play (“The Skin of Our Teeth”) and Sarafina Bush for Costume Design of a Play (“for colored girls…”), previous nominees Emilio Sosa for Costume Design of a Play (“Trouble in Mind”) and Jiyoun Chang for Lighting Design of a Play (“for colored girls…”), as well as former costume design winners Toni-Leslie James (“Paradise Square”) and Paul Tazewell (“MJ”).
Brown experienced an exciting level of support when it was reported that “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf” would close earlier due to lackluster sales. Still, after a social media boost from a recent grassroots campaign, kickstarted by journalist and producer Ayanna Prescod, donors sponsor pairs of tickets to female-identifying people of color. In the words of Brown, you need to “believe in and trust and get behind people.”
Additional reporting by Suraj Sansi and Lindsey Root